2014 Olympic Speedskating: Preview and Predictions for Men's 500-Meter Race
The men's 500-meter speedskating event is among the most exciting 30 or so seconds you'll ever see. Unlike the longer distances, the skaters have absolutely no margin for error, and a slow start could doom their chances of seeing the podium.
That leads to one inevitable conclusion that must run through the minds of all competitors.
Start fast and finish fast, or you're going to go home unhappy.
The men's 500-meter race, unlike the longer distances, takes place over the course of two heats. Each skater will race once on both the outer and inner lanes of the track; this is to correct for a small but statistically significant advantage given to the skater on the inner lane.
Times are added together to create an overall time, with the lowest times eventually reaching the podium.
It's fast, it's exciting and it's full of drama.
This is your complete preview of the men's 500-meter speedskating event.
Schedule, TV and Live Stream Info
If you want to catch all the live action, you'll need to make sure you have a functioning alarm clock, because this one is early, even on the East Coast.
8 a.m. ET, men's 500 meters, Race 1 of 2
10:05 a.m. ET, men's 500 meters, Race 2 of 2
Live streams will be available at NBCOlympics.com.
Tape-delayed TV schedules can be found at NBCOlympics.com/TV-Listings.
How Did We Get Here?
For the American men, the road to Sochi was wrought with controversy.
Tucker Fredricks, Mitchell Whitmore and Brian Hansen all qualified easily by virtue of their performances. The fourth and final spot came down to Jonathan Garcia and two-time Olympic gold medalist—albeit in the 1,000 meters—Shani Davis.
In December, Garcia posted a time that would've been enough to secure his passage to Sochi. But as it turns out, he wasn't wearing his required timing bracelet on his ankle and was disqualified from the race. He was given a chance to re-race later in the day, but that time was only good enough for sixth place, and it secured Davis' spot on the team.
Defending gold medalist and odds-on-favorite to repeat Mo Tae-bum qualified for Sochi largely on the basis of his performances over the last two years. He captured the 2012 and 2013 World Speedskating Championships in the 500 meters.
Michel Mulder, whose brother Ronald is also competing in this event, secured both the 2013 and 2014 World Sprint Speedskating Championship crowns to earn his qualification—and in the 2014 competition, held in Nagano, he held off Davis to do it.
Can Mo Tae-bum repeat his gold performance?
Tae-bum is definitely the story of this race. He captured a surprising Olympic gold on his birthday in 2010—becoming the first Korean athlete to win a Winter Games gold in an event other than short track—and will be looking to become just the fourth man to repeat as champion in the 500 meters.
How will the Japanese skaters fare?
Keiichiro Nagashima and Joji Kato, both representing Japan, finished just behind Mo in Vancouver with silver and bronze medals. They're primed for another run at gold in Sochi.
Do the Dutch have a shot?
The Netherlands, seeking to extend its early success in speedskating, will boast a strong team, led by World Sprint Speedskating champion Michel Mulder and his brother Ronald Mulder. It would not at all be surprising to see one of the Dutch contingent crack the podium in a pretty wide-open race.
Does Shani Davis have 500-meter skill to go along with his 1,000-meter dominance?
For the United States, the question is whether or not Shani Davis will be able to find some of the success in the 500 meters that he's enjoyed in the longer distances. He's really just lucky to be in this event—he ultimately withdrew and did not medal in 2010—and will be hoping to snag another medal before his better events come up.
If not Davis, the American hopefuls include Tucker Fredricks, who finished 12th in Vancouver, and Mitchell Whitmore, who will be looking to improve on his dismal 37th-place finish in the 2010 Games.
Who Are the Sleepers?
In the men's 500 meters, it might be better to ask who isn't a sleeper. The field is open, and while Mo is the favorite, he's not overwhelmingly so by any stretch.
Michel and his twin-brother Ronald will make up the crux of a strong Dutch contingent in this race. The former comes to Sochi having won back-to-back titles at the World Sprint Speedskating Championship, including the 2014 competition in Nagano this January, and he is looking for his first Olympic medal in the 500 meters.
He's performed pretty well at this distance lately, finishing second in the 2012 World Single Distance Speedskating Championships behind Mo and fourth last year in Sochi.
The less-talked-about piece of the Dutch team is still pretty darn good. Smeekens has captured two 500-meter bronze medals at the World Championships since Vancouver and looked very good on the ice in Sochi at last year's competition.
He's flying a little bit under the radar right now, but don't be surprised if he's in the hunt, or even snags a medal, Monday.
Davis is included here largely for name recognition. The 500-meter event has never been his strongest race. He's much more comfortable in the 1,000 meters, where he's won back-to-back gold medals at the Winter Games. But if he can pull this one off, he's primed for a huge Sochi Games.
The Americans' best shot to medal, however, might come in the form of Tucker Fredricks, who holds the U.S. record in the 500 meters.
Who Is the Favorite to Win Gold?
It would seem that Mo enters this event as the favorite to repeat his gold-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Games. He's had a bit of an up-and-down time of it since the last Winter Games, but he seems to have hit Sochi in stride.
Mo has captured the last two World Championships in the 500 meters, including last year in Sochi, and he should have an excellent chance to become just the fourth man to defend his Olympic crown in this event.
Unlike in many events, though, while there is a front-runner, he's not an overwhelming favorite. There's no Sven Kramer, who was expected to—and did—run away with the men's 5,000-meter race on Saturday here.
Mo will be challenged by a talented field that includes the two men he beat in Vancouver—Keiichiro Nagashima and Joji Kato—and a slew of skaters looking to create their own defining Olympic moment by upsetting the field, just as Mo did four years ago.
Should he win?
Yes, though it's anything but a guarantee.
Complete Medal Predictions
This is a difficult field to pick from; there are legitimately about a dozen directions you could go to predict who will adorn the podium on Monday afternoon in Sochi.
Mo came out of almost nowhere to capture gold in Vancouver, and he's coming into Sochi on a high note and looking to defend his crown. Expect him to be pushed by a talented and deep field, but he'll overcome and secure his second consecutive gold medal in the 500 meters.
As for the rest of the podium, take your pick. Your best bet for the podium looks like this:
Gold: Mo Tae-bum (KOR)
Silver: Michel Mulder (NED)
Bronze: Joji Kato (JPN)